People often ask me how I am losing weight and getting healthy, so I thought that my one
year milestone was a good time to tell my story. Apologies for the length, but it’s a whole YEAR’s worth of stuff about my life! I hope my story will encourage and inspire others and also help people understand why I do (and eat or not eat) what I do today.
The Dark Days
It isn’t like lightning struck or anything dramatic made me decide to change my relationship with food. It was more of a series of events that led me to start making choices that eventually led me down the path to a whole new lifestyle.
So it was July of 2013 and I was sick and tired. Sick of what? I didn’t know. I had been working some crazy long hours and I thought I was just worn down.
I had to go to my annual “lady physical” on July 1st and I had to have a fasting blood test, so I went without my morning coffee and bowl of cereal. I had trouble finding the doctor’s office. Yeah, I’ve been there many times and it’s a small town. I kept turning down the wrong streets and driving in circles. I finally found my way and just wanted to sit in the car and cry (I now know I was suffering from “grain-brain”). My longtime doc had retired so I had a new girl. She didn’t know me enough to see I was a mess and I was so out of it that I had trouble articulating how I felt. I told her I thought I had a sinus infection (because I often did) and she prescribed some antibiotics, and sent me on my way.
Our annual 4th of July festivities were painful for me because I felt like crap and it was so tiring to just get through my volunteer duties and social activities. I remember hiding out at home as much as I could.
Then we decided to buy tickets to a three-day outdoor music festival in Telluride in September and I was terrified that I wouldn’t be able to hack it given my current state of health and lack of stamina. I didn’t want to slog through the whole thing and ruin it for myself or my friends and husband. Instead of looking forward to my favorite late-summer event, I was scared it would be a repeat of the 4th of July.
THEN I STEPPED ON THE SCALE. O.M.G. doesn’t begin to describe how bad it was. An all-time high for me sent me into an all-time low feeling about myself. How could I let this happen? I knew better! I knew what healthy eating was all about! I didn’t eat fast food! I knew how to cook! I even grew a garden and learned to CAN MY OWN TOMATOES, dammit!
I have always struggled with weight. I always felt like the pudgy girl in elementary school, but I thinned out in my teen years, thanks to skating and color guard activities (and a nasty bout of Mono!). I maintained a thinner weight, but not a healthy relationship with food through college. But after marriage and a stressful teaching career, I gained weight regularly over several years. The previous 10 years or so I had “dieted’ by doing the usual low fat, low calorie thing and I did my best to exercise regularly, and while I’d lose five pounds here and there, it was always so, so hard and it felt like a losing battle with the same 5 pounds – well, except I usually added some new ones in between “diets.”
So I felt like crap, weighed a ton, was fearful of upcoming fun events. Time to diet. Again. sigh.
May 2012: My daughter’s college graduation. Cringing about having my photo taken
About that time I saw a friend of a friend’s Facebook post proudly proclaiming she was down to her pre-child weight (she’s about my age: 45) and that she did it mainly by walking around town daily and using some willpower against junk food. Walk and don’t eat junk. Sounds simple, I thought. If she can do it, I should be able to do it, right?
Then I saw an old friend who had had weight loss surgery. I asked her how her eating habits had changed since surgery and she said her biggest ah-ha moment was learning how much to eat. She said she had no idea before surgery what a “normal” serving size was. Hmm, I thought. I bet I have the same problem.
So with little fanfare, I decided to go for a walk – in the mornings before my life got in the way – and to try eating smaller portions and use a little willpower. I wrote that huge number from the scale on a post-it note and put it next to my computer so I could see it ALL day long. I found an app on my smartphone called Map My Walk and took my first morning walk on July 14, 2013. I had been a walker before, so this was not so momentous, but the key turned out to be doing it in the morning because I learned to love the way it helped me wake up my brain and my body first thing. I liked watching my stats on the app improve from day to day, then week to week.
I tackled the “diet” as I had done before, cutting calories and fat and working at those smaller portions and eating less often. Boo! I was HANGRY! It’s supposed to suck when you’re dieting, right? Sigh. Yes. I even did some calorie counting in My Fitness Pal and I HATE, I mean really, really HATE counting things. I’m a word girl, not a number girl, so it’s really painful for me to count. And since I really do cook mostly from scratch, it’s a pain to measure and then input every little ingredient in the recipe into the system. But at least I got a sense of how much I was eating, which did help to some degree. What I now know is that I was tracking quantity over quality. You can use up your whole calorie count for the day on a few slices of pizza.
A Better Way
So with a ton of willpower and pain I eventually lost my usual five pounds. But, along the way I started doing some research. I’m not sure exactly what led me down the road to the Paleo lifestyle, but I remember my doctor mentioning it once when I was complaining of weird, unidentified stomach issues. My response had been something like, “What would I eat if I couldn’t have wheat, for god sakes?” I guess I was looking for something, anything that would move the “diet” along at a better pace. A few friends mentioned doing it on Facebook and maybe my brother, the healthy one in the family, had mentioned he was following it. It sounded extreme, especially for someone who can’t even manage to count a calorie, but something about it resonated with me. Maybe I needed something extreme in that moment, so on September 4, 2013, about 10 days before that 3-day music festival, I quietly slid into the Paleo diet. I didn’t tell anyone; I just figured I’d give it a go and see how it felt. My husband didn’t even notice because he’s a meat lover and was pleased as long as meat arrived on his plate each dinner.
If you’re unfamiliar with the Paleo plan, in simplest terms, it eliminates grains (not just gluten!!!), sugar, legumes and dairy – all for various reasons, but basically because they cause digestive and other inflammatory issues in the human body. Considering I was a bread/pasta/sugar/bean/milk/cheese addict, this was pretty damn drastic! At first, I refused to give up my “healthy” and beloved breakfast of plain whole-grain Cheerios with skim milk, a sliced banana and blueberries. I had eaten cereal for breakfast nearly every single day of my life! It wasn’t Captain Crunch, after all. It was healthy whole-grain Cheerios. The plain ones! And there was fruit on top and no-fat milk! Doesn’t get any healthier, I reasoned.
Well…so I think I lost a few pounds at first, and then stalled, so I read something about too many carbs, which I had never really paid attention to before. I input my breakfast into that damn calorie counter and found out it was loaded with carbs. Sigh. Time to give it up. I started making eggs for breakfast. What a pain in my big ass. But, what a clearer head I have in the morning now.
Oh, the 3-day music festival? I was only a little ways into Paleo and wasn’t completely clean yet, but I did get through it better than I had expected back in July. I’m sure my daily walking and generally improved diet helped. It rained for three days: think Woodstock. Yeah, but I survived and wasn’t totally blown up afterwards. Baby steps.
From there I just kind of hung with it and pounds starting coming off much more easily than they had when I followed the Standard American Diet (SAD) rules. By mid-November I had lost 20 pounds! Real progress – freaking finally!
December 2013: First time in years to happily pose for a photo
Meanwhile, I was reading tons of blogs and listening to podcasts learning about the Paleo lifestyle and why it’s better for us than the SAD. It all starting making so much sense! Grains are like crack in our bodies and when we eat them, we want more, more, more – not because we don’t have will-power, but because our hormones whack out on them and think we NEED more. I learned how different the grain of today is from the grain of even 50 years ago, thus causing so very many health issues for modern humans. Research has drawn very strong connections between the raise in common health issues like diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and many auto-immune diseases to the consumption of grains. I’m not going to get into all of the science here because you can read more about it, if you’re interested, on your own. But basically, consumption of grains, sugar, legumes and dairy creates a variety of inflammatory reactions in our bodies, which then causes a myriad of other health issues. It’s NOT about cutting fat and total calories!
The REAL Motivation
Learning about the health benefits of my new way of eating really helped it solidify for me so it wasn’t just about losing weight anymore. Have I mentioned how type II diabetes runs rampant – RAMPANT! – through my family? Or how both of my parents died of completely preventable diseases at a young ages? Mom was emphysema (yes, she smoked till the end) at 65, and dad was diabetes and all of the side effects, including the loss of one leg below the knee and half of one foot, at 73. Sigh. What if?? What IF they had learned the right information about health and diet before it was too late?
And did I mention that my daughter turned 22 in 2013? I was 22 when she was born and I was 32 when my mom died. 32! Way. Too. Young. The light started to finally dawn on me that if I continued abusing my body as I had been before, I was going to inflict the same pain on my daughter that my parents’ diseases and deaths had inflicted on me. No! God no! I couldn’t put her through that!
So there was the real motivation to keep going. People ask me if I miss things like cake or beans or cheese. Yeah, sort of but not really anymore. Sure, at first it was hard because I had to unlearn how I had been eating all of my life. Cereal, bread and tortillas were the hardest for me. All of my go-to meals had involved one of those. If I was in a hurry, I made a PB&J sandwich or a quesadilla – but I put chicken and veggies or beans in with the cheese on the flour tortilla! Face-plant. All wrong. The good news is that I do cook and I like veggies. Contrary to popular media mythology, the Paleo diet is NOT all about meat. It’s about eating real food. Real food includes protein, vegetables, fruit, good fats, and nuts & seeds. There’s a lot more to it than meat (though the Hubs still likes that part, best). After you get the hang of focusing on what you can eat vs what you can’t eat, it’s just not that hard.
Slow and Simple
The weight came off slowly, but regularly and it became pretty easy, really. I never had any major backslides, just normal two pound fluctuations on the scale. What I’m most proud of is that I have lived nearly a year of NORMAL life like this, which means it’s no longer a “diet”- now it’s a lifestyle. I have maintained my new lifestyle while doing things that used to cause backslides and weight gain. I have traveled for work and pleasure (including to Santa Fe during the Christmas holidays and to Vegas twice!); I have had stressful times at work and home; I have gone through ALL of the holiday seasons (I lost weight over Christmas holidays and 4th of July); I have mourned with friends as they have lost loved ones; I have BOUGHT A HOUSE and MOVED (is there anything more stressful?); I have put a dog to sleep; I have been to parties, concerts, large events, bars, restaurants; I have been too tired or busy (or lazy) to cook; I have had PMS about 12 times; I have been sad, happy, lonely, worried, stressed, bored and excited – and I have maintained my healthy lifestyle. I committed and that’s just how I live now.
Physically, I didn’t kill myself with a bunch of work-out regimens but I did try some new things and I’m fitter and stronger than ever. Besides walking every week day (I’ve logged 463 miles so far, with a goal of doing at least 500 in 2014), I’ve done some 30-day challenges (I can now plank for 2 min 15 seconds – on my elbows!) and I do a little work with strength training. I’ve also done three 5K event walks, with another color run/walk scheduled later this month.
Do I cheat? I don’t have “cheat” meals or “cheat days” where I throw it out the window for a period of time. I do have “cheat” bites, usually of my husband’s contraband, but that’s all I need to remind myself to quit it and do the right thing. I know if I have crap, I will feel like crap and now that I don’t feel like crap every day I really notice the difference. Before, on my SAD diet, I didn’t notice the difference because my body was used to feeling bad. It’s just not worth it to have cake and feel bloated, itchy and fuzzy brained the next day. I truly believe that I am what I eat, and everything that goes in my mouth impacts my body. I’d rather eat food that impacts it positively.
And yes, there have been health benefits along with the weight loss:
• High blood pressure is gone so I don’t have to take daily meds.
• The constant sinus issues, which were attributed to seasonal or pet allergies, are nearly gone. I don’t take daily Singulair anymore. It was likely the grain and/or dairy causing all of my sinus inflammation. Duh. My perpetually clogged right ear is usually unclogged, too.
• The random skin issues are almost non-existent. I have had small bouts of eczema and/or psoriasis off and on all my life and my scalp was habitually itchy and scaly. My skin feels smooth and moist for the first time ever.
• Zits nearly never appear- finally, at age 45! I only get them if I allow myself those bites of crap mentioned above.
• PMS is very mild. Hormones are much more balanced now.
• My chronic lower back pain is much improved. The walking and lack of inflammation have kept it at bay – I didn’t have to spend weeks icing it to recover from moving!
• Random stomach/digestive issues are gone. I used to have unexplained bouts of diarrhea and constipation, occasional squeezing pain on my left side, and lots of gas and bloating. I thought it all fairly ‘normal.’ Not anymore!
My health issues were relatively minor compared to those who have reversed diabetes, MS, fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, autism, ADHD and other super serious health conditions following the Paleo lifestyle, but I think I just dodged what was an inevitable bullet that was heading for me had I not cleaned up my act. Sorry diabetes, you’re not getting this one!
April 2014: Same blouse as Dec. 13
Comfortable in My Own Skin
The BEST part is I feel whole again. I’m me, only better. Even when I was thinner in my younger years, I was never in control my health. Now I am. I am truly comfortable in my own skin for the first time in many years – or maybe ever. I have more weight to lose to be within the “medically acceptable” range, but I don’t have a certain number in mind. I’ll know when I get there and it doesn’t matter how long it takes as long as I’m moving in the right direction. I have no visions of being a size 4 or anything. I just want to be able to wear cute clothes (like sleeveless shirts and a bathing suit!) and be as healthy as I can be.
I’m immensely proud that I found a way to do this in a way that is sustainable for the long term. I also LOVE that I didn’t buy a program, or join a system or anything like. I just relearned how to eat the right foods. Pretty damn simple in the long run
I no longer live in fear of my own limitations. The 4th of July was so much better this year! I did a lot more physically with my volunteer work and socially (the Hubs and I even danced a little), and I didn’t feel all strung out the whole time. We’re going to the 3-day music festival again, but this year I have to duck out a day early to go on week-long out of state business trip. There’s a challenge to my stamina! Yep, I’ll be ready.
Looking forward to the one year anniversary of my healthier me journey, I have been thinking about what’s next for me. I feel like I have all the tools now, so what do I do now? I don’t want to just keep on keepin’ on because I fear that will lead to being too comfortable, which could lead to backsliding. I think I need to keep learning and trying new things and improving my overall health.
So, starting today I’m embarking on the Whole 30 program. It’s basically a 30-day strict Paleo challenge. Yeah, I’m already pretty strict but I have a few places where I can improve, so it’s just a tune-up, really. I need to:
• Break my honey and dark chocolate as sugar habit.
• Eat fewer nuts because I use them as snacks instead of more nutrient-dense foods.
• Eat more leafy greens and more veggies, overall.
• Expand my horizons by trying new foods (liver? sardines? Kombucha?).
• Decrease my non-food/chemical intake like MSG, soy, carrageen, guar gum, etc.
• Stop the occasional corn (yes, it’s a grain) intake via corn tortillas and (organic!) corn chips.
It will be interesting to see how these tweaks make me feel after 30 days. I assume I’ll feel even better and more energetic than I do now!
I know this is a lot of information for a blog post, but I know that reading other real people’s stories helped me stay focused during the last year. That simple Facebook post I saw last year inspired me to do something different, so maybe my story will inspire someone else to try something, too.
Cheers to REAL FOOD!
For ideas on what to eat, see my The Nuts & Bolts: My Real Food Paleo Lifestyle series.
Resources: below is a list of link to books, blogs and podcasts I have read and listened to while on my first year journey. Most of them also have Facebook, Pinterest and other associated resources. If you are interested in learning more about eating real and the Paleo lifestyle, I encourage you to browse these resources.
• It Starts with Food by Melissa and Dallas Hartwig
• Whole 30 Program
• Grain Brain by David Perlmutter
• Wheat Belly by William Davis
• The Paleo Approach: Reverse Autoimmune Disease and Heal Your Body by Sarah Ballantyne
• The Wahls Protocol: How I Beat Progressive MS Using Paleo Principles and Functional Medicine by Terry Wahls M.D.
• Practical Paleo by Diane Sanfilippo, Bill Staley and Robb Wolf
• Eat the Yolks by Liz Wolfe
• The Paleo Diet by Loren Cordain
• The Paleo Solution by Robb Wolf
• The Primal Blueprint by Mark Sisson
• Mark’s Daily Apple
• Grass-fed Girl
• Against All Grain
• Nom Nom Paleo
• The Paleo Mom
• Paleo OMG
• The Spunky Coconut
• The Paleohacks Podcast
• Balanced Bites podcast
• Underground Wellness Radio podcast